For 100 years Junior Achievement of Delaware has bolstered student success, inspiring thousands to dream big, giving them the skills they need to succeed in business. Aimed at kids from kindergarten through 12th grade, Junior Achievement (JA) scholars learn many of the intricacies of starting a business and the art of the sales pitch. They focus on staying organized, running successful meetings, and presenting themselves professionally to ‘customers.’
Next week 75 local teen entrepreneurs from across the state will compete for awards, scholarships and internships at the second annual Junior Achievement Barracuda Bowl. Two will walk away with some pretty cool titles: President of the Year and JA Company of the Year for 2019.
Ryan Venderlic brings global experience to his role as Student Enterprise Manager at JA. A small town, West Virginia native turned Delaware enthusiast, Venderlic made his way to Kenya after college, serving as an Economic Development Peace Corps Volunteer from 2011 to 2013, where part of his mission was to promote a better understanding of Kenyans on the part of Americans. After returning to the United States, Venderlic conducted an extensive job search before ultimately finding his ‘dream job’ with Junior Achievement of Delaware.
Now with the program nearly five years, Venderlic is not only impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit of teens in the program but also with a city that he says embraces bright ideas and diverse cultures.
Venderlic’s attraction to Delaware
Growing up in West Virginia, Venderlic knew from a young age that he wanted to explore the world. Immediately after receiving his B.A. from Wheeling Jesuit University, Ryan set off from his home state to follow his ambitions to the Peace Corps in Kenya, where he served as a community economic development volunteer. After three years of volunteering, Ryan decided he wanted to make an impact closer to home.
“I loved the work I was doing in Kenya, but it dawned on me that I was spreading a message about impacting one’s own communities, although I was not following that advice myself,” he said.
This realization brought him back to the United States, where Venderlic searched for a job with a small organization or company that would allow him to be entrepreneurial in his approach to work and be centered on impact-driven tasks. “Each day I strive to make a positive impact in our community,” he said. He looked at business incubator-accelerator positions as well as international organizations and companies focused on entrepreneurship.
Venderlic ultimately narrowed his search to positions within Junior Achievement and considered opportunities with JA all across the country. Medium-to-large-sized cities initially jumped out at Venderlic: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Denver.
A position with JA in Wilmington, Delaware, then caught his eye. And he started thinking about his notion that the benefits of working for a smaller organization might also apply to the choice of a town he might live in. He also had a deep desire to live in a community with a diverse population of people, a vibrant culture, a growing food scene, and interesting places to visit – in and out of town.
“The more research I did into the diverse population of Wilmington, the more I liked it. There are even quite large populations of Kenyan diaspora living in Philly and around Bear, Delaware. Plus, from my perspective, I feel like its size makes it manageable to make change possible as huge cities sometimes just have too many obstacles to feel like you’re ever actually making a difference,” he said. He also liked Delaware’s proximity to New York City, Washington, DC, and its sunny beaches.
Venderlic paid a visit to Wilmington in 2014, and it was love at first sight. His time here has only strengthened his belief in the community he now calls home.
On the impact of Junior Achievement
Venderlic believes ‘the secret sauce’ of any Junior Achievement program is the relationships between the mentors and students. As the students are guided through their projects, they are exposed to challenges and opportunities for success more similar to a real work environment than a typical classroom.
His passion for JA shone through as he enthusiastically explained the concept behind one of JA’s most popular programs, the JA Company Program, which challenges high school students and holds them accountable, from pitching their idea to running the business. “We prepare young people to tackle opportunities and obstacles using an entrepreneurial spirit, equipping them with the tools needed to be successful in life. We are one of the only organizations that support and challenge students to go from start to finish when building a real-life business.”
The JA Company Program graduate Bryna Alden says the program has been invaluable, helping students learn about the different parts of a business and giving them a chance to try them out. “The business skills we learn are very practical — writing meeting agendas, creating a marketing plan, learning to sell, managing financials, etc. We also learn how to effectively collaborate even when our opinions or backgrounds might differ from each other.”